We are learning a lot about discipleship at Christ Church lately. We have been using some tools developed by Mike Breen and others over the past 20 years when he was leading St. Thomas’ Church in Sheffield, England.
They’re called “Lifeshapes,” and initially they seem kind of silly. I was skeptical at first, but as we’ve engaged with them, we’ve found that they aren’t a program we’re running, but a language we’re learning. We have a common language to talk about discipleship together, and people are really growing in their relationship with Jesus. (For more on the big picture of what we’re doing right now, check out these three posts in the Mid-Sized Communities series: Making Disciples / Culture of Discipleship / Our Plan)
One of the things I like about these tools is that they don’t present anything new. Instead they are basically simple ways of conceptualizing and remembering the things Jesus taught and modeled.
For example, one of the “shapes” is the Triangle, which points to our need for robust relationships in three spheres: with God (UP), with others in the Body of Christ (IN), and with those who don’t know Jesus (OUT). This is rooted in Jesus’ own practice and teaching.
This is nothing new, right? You could probably find similar ideas in most church taglines. “Love God, Love Others, Love the World,” or some variation on that theme. It’s intuitive.
Scott McKnight blogged about a new book by M. Scott Boren called Missional Small Groups that points out three features of healthy missional groups:
- Missional communion — practices of presence (UP)
- Missional relating — practices of agape (IN)
- Missional engagement — practices of engaging the community (OUT)
Hugh Halter and Matt Smay say that the “Tangible Kingdom” happens when three spheres overlap: Communion (UP), Community (IN), and Mission (OUT).
Similarly, Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, along with many Reformed church plants are talking about the need for Gospel (UP), Community (IN), and Mission (OUT) in order to be a Total Church.
Or, simply a triangle labeled UP, IN, and OUT. And we learn to think about our lives, our communities, our churches through that lens.
Again, I like the tools because they don’t pretend to be the latest, greatest program to take your church to the “next level.” They simply give articulation to the kinds of practices that disciples of Jesus have done for centuries.
Luke Dalach says
Love the Lifeshapes! I didn't know that the UP-IN-OUT idea is coming from so many places, though. I've been trying to incorporate them too lately…most recently with the square and circle. I don't think that tools need to be turned into a program or silver bullet. These shapes just give language for stuff that we're probably already articulating in some way.
Ben Sternke says
That's a great way of saying it, Luke: the shapes "give language for stuff" that would remain intuitive unless we have specific language for it.